Aspen city budget for 2021 projects growth

City Council set to adopt $141 million budget on Tuesday

Aspen City Hall (Aspen Times file photo)

As Aspen City Council prepares to adopt the 2021 budget on Tuesday, this year didn’t end up as bad as city financiers first projected when the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March and next year is not expected to be as dire.

Originally projecting a $25 million loss in revenues, the city’s sales tax, along with the municipal government’s share of Pitkin County’s tax receipts, real estate transfer taxes, golf course revenues and development fees brought in $18.3 million, making the shortfall only $7 million, according to City Finance Director Pete Strecker.

That allowed some wiggle room for fall supplemental requests that increase the city’s total expenditure appropriations from $199 million to almost $206 million.

The increase includes $2 million to refinance the city-owned ISIS Theater, $2 million for the exterior of the renovation of the Wheeler Opera House, and almost $200,000 for raises for employees.

Strecker said roughly half of city’s 300 full-time employees received their merit awards prior to April 1, so the other half will be made whole this year.

“With our revenues better than projected, in terms of equity we want to be fair,” he said.

The city made 8% cuts throughout its departments to save $9.1 million when the economy was shut down due to COVID-19.

Those cuts came in the form of freezing wages, not filling open positions and operational cost reductions.

Council in the spring also agreed to almost $5 million in pullbacks to capital improvement projects, but also increased that type of spending by $42 million, which was a rollover from money set aside in 2019.

Those funds went toward the city’s new office building currently being constructed on Rio Grande Place, as well as providing construction loans for three public-private affordable housing projects.

In its adoption of the fall supplemental requests on Tuesday, Council also will approve a schedule of fees for the city’s recreation offerings in 2021.

They largely remain the same as this year, Strecker said.

The 2021 budget is proposed at $141 million, which includes a $40 million carry-forward capital project expenditure for the third phase of the city’s Burlingame Ranch.

Without factoring in that capital improvement expenditure, the city budget for 2021 is $101 million.

That’s lower than the original 2020 budget of $112 million. However, with spring and fall supplemental requests, that amount went to $169 million in net appropriations.

Strecker said each year spring and fall supplemental requests come to council for approval. The additional money is carried over from the previous year.

Strecker and his finance team are projecting a 5% growth in tax revenues over 2020. Through September, the city’s sales tax revenue was down 7% from 2019, and lodging tax revenue was 20% below last year.

Council will make a determinations on next year’s budget supplemental requests based on how the local economy is doing, which is a complete unknown as the COVID-19 health and economic crisis continues.